Felicia Hambrick talks about her serious pit bull attack
It’s the pain that Felicia Hambrick remembers the most. And the screams.
She didn’t hear the dog growling as it tore her flesh. Her screaming drowned it out.
What had begun as a weekend of babysitting for her best friend became a fight for survival Oct. 29.
“This is going to be the end of me,” she thought as the pit bull’s jaws brought bite after bite.
Hambrick is recovering, but her body will never be the same after the attack in Tacoma that inflicted over 30 bites.
The Federal Way woman stands just under 5 feet tall and weighs 115 pounds. She looks younger than her 24 years.
In late October, the recent Pacific Lutheran University graduate was preparing to start a career as a medical technician.
She’s known her best friend Cassy since her sophomore year at Mount Tahoma High School.
Hambrick often babysat Cassy’s three children at their South Tacoma home.
On the weekend of Oct. 28, Cassy and her husband were leaving town to celebrate their anniversary. Hambrick would spend the weekend babysitting as a favor.
Hambrick would share the house with Cassy’s mother and the family dog, Roscoe.
ROSCOE THE PIT BULL
Cassy, who does not want her last name used for this story, got the full-grown pit bull in June.
Roscoe was a gift to her husband on Father’s Day.
Cassy wasn’t sure about Roscoe at first, but her father talked her into it.
“ ‘Are you sure?’ ” she recalled asking him. “I was kind of nervous. He’s a big dog.”
Pit bulls have been a controversial breed for decades.
Nationally, pit bulls were responsible for 64 percent of fatal dog attacks between 2005 and 2015, according to dogsbite.org, a dog bite victims’ group.
A 2015 study at the University of Washington Medical Center found similar numbers for pit bulls and dog attacks.
Many U.S. cities, including a dozen in Washington, prohibit or regulate ownership of dangerous dogs, including pit bulls. Tacoma is not one of them.
In March, Olympia resident Gladys Alexander, 92, died after being mauled by a pack of mixed-breed dogs that were part pit bull.
To date in 2016, 41 percent of all fatal dog bite victims were visiting or temporarily living with the dog’s owner, according to dogsbite.org. Of those cases, 75 percent involved pit bulls.
Pit bull advocates say the dogs are safe if raised to be non-aggressive.
Roscoe hadn’t exhibited any concerning behavior after he joined the family, Cassy said.
But on one previous visit Hambrick made to the home, Roscoe lightly bit her on the wrist.
“From that moment on, they would make sure the dog was outside,” Hambrick said.
“He wasn’t vicious to us in any way,” Cassy said. But it soon became apparent Roscoe wasn’t working out.
“My kids didn’t have the time for him and didn’t want to play with him,” Cassy said.
When Cassy told her father she was going to give the dog away, he took responsibility for it. The dog continued to live in the home Cassy shares with her parents.
Hambrick arrived at Cassy’s home early Friday, Oct. 29.
Early Saturday, Hambrick had just finished feeding breakfast to the children. She put the two oldest kids, 6- and 3-year-old boys, in chairs to watch TV while she got the 8-month-old girl some apple juice.
At that moment, Cassy’s mother stepped out of the house for a cigarette.
“The dog was in the bedroom, frantic, trying to get out,” Hambrick recalled.
Without warning, Hambrick, who was holding the baby, heard the sound of the bedroom door opening.
“I heard his feet running toward the kitchen area,” she said.
Suddenly the dog was in the kitchen. It lunged at Hambrick, knocking her down.
As she fell Hambrick, tried to protect the baby.
“I tried my hardest to make sure she didn’t hit her head,” she said.
The baby wasn’t injured in the fall.
The dog began to bite Hambrick as she and the baby lay on the floor.
Hambrick maneuvered herself between baby and dog.
“I knew he didn’t want her,” she said. “He was coming after me.”
The dog was relentless in its attack, biting her legs, arms, stomach and neck.
The pain was unbearable.
“I’m done for,” is all Hambrick could think as she let out scream after scream.
Outside, Cassy’s mother heard Hambrick’s cries. She came in to the kitchen, grabbed a nearby broom and began beating the dog.
The dog relented and ran to another room, giving Cassy’s mother an opportunity to rescue her granddaughter.
But before she could help Hambrick, the dog returned.
Drawn by the commotion, the 6-year-old came into the kitchen, climbed on top of a deep freezer and began screaming, Hambrick said.
Hambrick doesn’t know how long the dog attacked. To her, it seemed like 10, maybe even 15, minutes.
“I remember it hurting so bad that I was literally screaming, ‘I just want to die. Oh God, please let me die.’”
Cassy’s mother continued to beat Roscoe. In his fury, he bit her on both arms.
“She would get him off her and he’d go back and she’d get him off and he’d go right back,” Cassy said.
Finally, the mother was able to get the dog outside.
A neighbor who heard Hambrick’s screams was on the phone with 911.
By the time firefighters came into the kitchen, Hambrick had wedged herself between two appliances.
They asked her to stand up. Her body screamed no.
“If you want me to get out of here, you’re really going to have to come pick me up,” she told them.
Medics tried to keep her conscious while they gave her aid. But on the ride to Tacoma General Hospital, she lost consciousness.
“The next thing I know, I woke up and we were at the hospital,” she said.
Doctors estimated Hambrick sustained 30 to 40 bites. Looking at her body today, it’s hard to tell where one bite ends and another begins.
Swaths of scars line her neck, legs, arms and stomach.
She also has scratches.
“I don’t even remember his paws being on me,” she said.
Doctors at Tacoma General told Hambrick she was lucky. Though the bites were deep, they didn’t cut tendons or break bones.
After five days, she was sent home with 94 staples holding her wounds together.
Now dogs scare Hambrick.
“It’s kind of hard to trust the bigger ones. For now,” she said.
She has nightmares. In some, she relives the incident. Others are just about dogs.
“I don’t want to not like them because of one bad incident,” she said.
Her therapist wants to try slowly exposing her to dogs.
She bears no ill will toward Roscoe.
“In his eyes, he was trying to rid the house of what doesn’t belong there,” she said.
Immediately after the attack, Cassy’s mother had animal control remove Roscoe.
“We wanted nothing to do with him,” Cassy said. The dog has since been euthanized, she said.
Hambrick knows she will bear the scars for the rest of her life. Well-intentioned friends urged her to get plastic surgery or cover them with tattoos.
But to Hambrick, they are battle scars.
“I would never get plastic surgery to make them look less than they are,” she said.
One scar on her arm is so deep it creases like the inside of an elbow.
“I’m going to learn to love them,” she said.
Every day she works on stretching and bending her legs. She doesn’t need to depend on people as much now.
But there is one person she turns to on a regular basis.
When she wakes from a nightmare, when the large family home in Federal Way goes quiet, she turns to grandma.
“She calls me in the middle of the night, ‘Are you awake?’ ” said her grandmother, Yvette Young West.
Young West sleeps in short segments and is usually available to chat.
“We talk about movies, whatever, for as long as it takes,” Young West said.
GUILT AND GRATITUDE
Hambrick knows Cassy, her best friend, is in pain as well.
“They’ve told me quite often how terrible they felt,” Hambrick said. “She felt like it was her fault. But it’s not.”
The guilt weighs heavily on Cassy.
“I try to hold it all in because I don’t want Felicia getting upset,” Cassy said.
She keeps a brave face when she’s with Hambrick.
“There’s nothing that Felicia can say or anybody can do that’s going to make me feel not guilty,” Cassy said. “If I was home, this wouldn’t have happened. She’s my best friend. Because of me, her life is forever changed.”
Mixed in with the guilt is the gratitude Cassy feels to Hambrick. She believes that Hambrick’s actions on that day saved her daughter’s life.
“I’m so thankful for her,” Cassy said. “If the dog had gotten to my baby in any way, she could have died. I’m so thankful that Felicia took that and put it on herself instead of my baby.”
Her sons, who witnessed the attack, will get therapy, Cassy said. They refuse to talk about the attack.
Hambrick will continue her career as a medical technician when she fully recovers.
She wants to return to Tacoma General soon.
This time as an employee.
Felicia Hambrick’s GoFundMe page
Dog bite statistics
Approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur each year in the United States. Nearly one out of five bites becomes infected.
— The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015
Dog bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for more than one third of all homeowners insurance liability claims paid out in 2015 — more than $570 million.
— Insurance Information Institute
More than 28,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery as a result of being bitten by dogs.
— American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 2015
Pit bulls and rottweilers contributed to 91 percent of all dog bite-related fatalities in 2015.
American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers (pit bulls) rank 77 and 79 for breed popularity.
— American Kennel Club, 2015